From its antique and specialty stores to its shade-drenched streets, Olde Towne Portsmouth is much more than one of the area’s most pleasant places to take a stroll. It’s a history lover’s dream come true. In a single square mile, the Olde Towne Historic District chronicles 300 years of history in one of the largest collections of antique homes south of Alexandria.

Legend has it that Benedict Arnold was held captive in one of the homes. Another was used by Union Forces to issue passes during the Civil War, while yet another concealed medicine for Confederate soldiers. You can explore this national treasure through a self-guided walking tour (available at the Visitor Information Center) or during seasonal lantern tours or candlelight home tours during special occasions.

Path of History
Self-Guided Walking Tour

6 Crawford Street • (757) 393-5111

More than 250 years of American history is unveiled during the Walking Tour – from the home that the Union Army’s Provost Marshal used during the Civil War (412 London St.) to the house where President Andrew Jackson visited (The Watts House pictured above, corner of North and Dinwiddie streets). As identified in the sites you will visit, many influential leaders have shaped the course of human events from our city. Whether you wander around on your own or follow the tour sequentially, you’ll see Portsmouth as a city that has preserved its character through more than two centuries of change.

Portsmouth Naval Shipyard Museum

2 High St. • (757) 393-8591

If you’re interested in local or naval history, or memorabilia from a centuries-old Southern port, you’ll find the Naval Shipyard Museum a delight. Established in 1949 within the nation’s oldest shipyard, the Norfolk Naval Shipyard Museum was later moved to the Portsmouth waterfront at High Street Landing on the Elizabeth River.

Lightship Portsmouth Museum

At the foot of London Street on the waterfront • (757) 393-8591

Built in 1915 and began service as part of the U.S. Lighthouse Service in 1916. In 1964, the lightship was retired to Portsmouth, VA. In 1989, the Lightship Portsmouth was designated a National Historic Landmark. Now a museum, the ship’s quarters are fitted out realistically and filled with fascinating artifacts, uniforms, photographs, models, and more.

Portsmouth Colored Community Library Museum

904 Elm Avenue • (757) 393-8983

The Portsmouth Colored Community Library Museum served black patrons from 1945 until 1963, when the main library was integrated. The small, one-story brick building was originally located on South Street near Effingham. In recognition of the historical importance of the structure, the Portsmouth Community Library is on the National Register of Historic Places.

Hill House Museum

221 North Street • (757) 393-0241

The Hill House was built as a private residence in 1820. It was home to three generations of Hills and in the 1960’s was left to the PHA by its last occupant, Miss Evelyn Hill. Miss Hill left the contents of the home, which were acquired by all three generations to the PHA as well.

Jewish Museum & Cultural Center

607 Effingham Street • 757-391-9266

This rare surviving example of Eastern European Jewish Orthodoxy is located at the main entrance to the City of Portsmouth. It is a place where visitors can celebrate and learn about Jewish history, faith, and culture. The Museum houses artifacts and exhibits that reflect the history of the Hampton Roads Jewish community. On display is an eighteenth-century Torah Scroll rescued from a synagogue in Trebíc, Czechoslovakia. That synagogue was a victim of the Holocaust.

Fresnel Lens

Near the Portsmouth Seawall, south of High Street Landing • 757-393-5111

Having begun service in 1896 as part of the Hog Island Light off the Great Machipongo Inlet on the Eastern Shore, today this first order Fresnel lens is valued between $750,000 and $1 million. It stands about 10 feet high, weighs 2,500 pounds and is among the largest and brightest of its kind, with more than 250 prisms of optical glass. Housed in a 16-foot-wide pavilion, this lens is the only one displayed outside of a museum setting.

The Railroad Museum of Virginia

Outside the Portsmouth Pavilion • 757-393-5111

This new museum-on-the-tracks features a five-car train, with a 1910-era steam locomotive, two walk-through gallery mail cars, a dining car, antique Norfolk-Southern caboose, and a depot-style platform.

Mary Veale and the Colonials

On the Streets in Olde Towne • 757-705-8130

A troupe of knowledgeable and entertaining actors can be found strolling the streets of Olde Towne entertaining guests of giving private tours of historic Olde Towne Portsmouth.  You can book a private tour with them or take advantage of one of their scheduled tours.